Excerpt from Medium post “The Definitive Guide to Asking Follow-up Questions“
1. Ask for Elaboration
Tell me more about that.
Easy and versatile. It’s especially useful if you don’t have a good concept or keyword to latch on to.
Let me get this straight…
Validates and reflects their answer back at them. Generally prompts to elaborate on the idea.
How do you know?
Used gently and respectfully asking about underlying knowledge can reveal what experts are looking for.
2. Ask in a Different Way
Use a synonym:
People generally worry about risks, so when I ask about risks I can perhaps swap in asking about worries.
Inject a perspective:
By suggesting that they put themselves in another person’s shoes I get new insights, and the added bonus of promoting the value of a perspective shift.
Point to a past experience:
Putting the topic in the context of a specific event or incident can elicit more concrete insights and relatable stories.
3. Ask about Perpendicular Perspective
When they mention a person or group, I ask “who else?”
Since understanding connections are important, I can use the mention of one group to trigger a conversation about additional groups.
When they mention a process or action, I ask “what else do they do?”
Verbs offer great hooks to explore the range of actions or behaviors. When they say that the Editorial group reviews all the materials, I can ask, “You said they review the materials. What else do they do with them?”
When they mention a state or condition, I ask “how else might it be?”
Descriptors in the real world–like “first draft” or “final”–reveal that something can be appear in other states. So when someone says, “It comes to me as a draft,” I can ask, “Is there also a final state or approved state?”
When they mention a timeframe, I ask “when else?”
Words like “sometimes” or “frequently” establish a timeline. Besides asking follow-ups like “how frequently,” I can ask about those areas not covered by the stated time frame. When they say, “always,” I can ask, “But when is it not?”
4. Ask Them to Challenge Assumptions
Get them to quantify.
Asking them to put their observations in real terms validates their impression and offers more insights. “You say ‘never’ but I’d like to understand that better. How late are they with their deliverables?”
Get them to compare. Like quantification, comparisons validate the impressions and offer more insights. “OK, how does that compare to other groups involved in the publishing process?”
Get them to slow down.
Making a generalization covers a lot of ground. By asking them to slow down, you’re asking them to build to their conclusion, so you understand how they got there. “OK, let’s take a step back. Walk me through the process so I can see their part in it.”